Coordinated and forceful actions are needed to reduce food waste, according to a round-table session of agriculture ministers from across Europe and Central Asia at a Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) meeting this week. 

In a paper prepared for the session, FAO examined food losses and waste in the region, comparing low-, middle- and high-income countries, and looking at seven different supply chains:  dairy, fish, meat, fruits and vegetables, oil crops and pulses, roots and tubers, and cereals.

Notable differences in the patterns of food losses and waste were found depending on income levels. Most of the losses in the developed countries occur at the consumption stage, while in the middle and low-income countries the largest losses occur at the production and post-harvest stages of the value chain, according to the FAO.

Bread is taken as an example. Over-supply, purchasing capacity and consumer preference for fresh bread – as well as higher discard rates of other cereal products – result in nearly 25 per cent wastage of cereal products in high-income countries. In middle-income countries, levels of waste fall to 8.5 percent, and in low-income countries as low as 5 percent. Another source of food waste is aesthetic standards, and consumer preference for products with a longer remaining shelf life.

Consumer behaviour is only part of the picture, however. Significant levels of food loss can occur at farm level, during storage, transport and processing.

Looking at the roots and tubers commodity group (potatoes, root vegetables), FAO’s study found that for high-income countries of the European Union and European Free Trade Association, losses at the production phase is highest, with just over 30 per cent of crops lost or wasted during the harvesting process. A further 17 per cent loss occurs in processing and packaging. In middle- and low-income countries, however, the study found almost no processing and packaging loss or waste for roots and tubers.